Verse is back ~ and I for one say it’s about time. After three successful albums, constant touring, and an eventual breakup in 2009, the guys decided it was time to get back together ~ and they’ve just released a new album.
The band kicked things off in 2003, releasing an EP called Four Songs and doing some smaller tours. Their first full length, Rebuild, saw them hitting the road with some bigger bands ~ including Bane and Evergreen Terrace ~ and touring the US and Europe. By the time 2006’s From Anger and Rage came out, Verse was one of the biggest bands in hardcore. With a solidified lineup and a sound that was unique within the tight walls of hardcore, they toured relentlessly, reaching out to Japan and pulling off multiple US tours with bands like Down to Nothing and Have Heart. They became regulars in Worcester, constantly playing shows at the QVCC, the Tatnuck Legion, and everywhere else that allowed all ages crowds.
2008 saw the band jump to Boston’s Bridge 9 Records, a label that was ready to push them to the highest places they have ever been. Verse suddenly had full page spreads in Alternative Press and Amp Magazine, and it almost seemed like they were leaving hardcore behind to officially become rock stars. Their touring schedule became bigger and their shows grander, and their songs were now listened to by a variety of audiences, not just hardcore kids. Touring brought them back to Japan and took them as far as Australia. Their 2008 album Aggression showed off the band’s unbelievable chemistry that they’d built together, and it wasn’t afraid to break the rules of conventional hardcore.
It was at that point that it all came crumbling down. The guys were at a crossroad. They had toured everywhere and had put out three successful albums. Their beloved small venues and basement shows were turning into big clubs with barriers, and that just didn’t feel right. Bridge 9 was getting them on bigger tours with bigger bands that weren’t necessarily hardcore. In the works were tours with Rancid, and Rise Against, and just a few weeks before doing a full US tour with New Found Glory, the band realized that this just wasn’t for them anymore. They decided to call it quits and played a final show in May of 2009.
A couple years later, drummer Shawn Costa started making calls to the other 4 members of the band. None of the guys in Verse had stopped making music, but they seemed lost without one another. Costa had started working on new songs for new projects, and it just seemed natural to invite the musicians with whom he’d always had that unbelievable chemistry to play with him. Eventually, everyone came on board ~ and Verse was practicing again. Costa and guitarists Eric Lepine and Zak Drummond were joined by Worcester native Chris Berg on bass and vocalist Sean Murphy, and the lineup was complete. Their first show back, in February of 2012, was at a small venue in Providence, but it seemed like the band had never broken up in the first place.
Berg is no stranger to the hardcore scene, playing in several Worcester hardcore bands that toured with Verse before he joined up on bass in 2006. While at first he was against the idea of Verse getting back together, he soon realized that the 5 guys in the band had a chemistry that they could never duplicate with anyone else. After trying some different projects with different people, and not really getting along with them, Berg said, “We all just missed playing music with people we like.” They felt the pull to get back together because they missed playing music with each other the way it used to be, before everything got complicated by touring 9 months out of the year and never being home. They missed the music, the camaraderie, the chemistry.
This time, the chemistry has brought us their latest album, Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace, once again on Bridge 9 Records. This new album manages to be everything that hardcore kids loved about Verse while simultaneously being completely new. The band has made a hardcore record that doesn’t stay within the confines of hardcore. It is fast, yet slow, heavy, yet melodic ~ and at no point is it generic.
While the music at times feels like it could fit in perfectly on a Deftones record, it is vocalist Sean Murphy who brings it all together with that wonderfully familiar protest-worthy shout that fully embodies Verse’s sound. The anger in his voice doesn’t make him come off as someone who is screaming for the sake of being in a hardcore band, but instead as someone who screams the words because they are backed by his own passion in his lyrics. His songs hold meaning, and he isn’t afraid to scream about it.
In 2009, Aggression showed Verse experimenting with their writing style, testing how different they could be ~ including “Earth and Stone,” which would have made for a great music video if the band wasn’t refusing to make videos at the time. Also, the 3-part song “Story of a Free Man” told its own story and worked like a mini-album of its own. That part of their set list always gave me the chills when they played it live. On their new album, Verse takes their songs even further. They find a way to be incredibly different yet incredibly…Verse-sounding. The second half of track three, “The Silver Spoon and the Empty Plate,” sounds like it could be on a Pixies record, but through Murphy’s screams manages to be eerily heavy. Describing the song, Berg shared, “It just sounded good, I liked it. At one point we worried that people might think that it doesn’t sound like Verse, but [we] don’t really care what people think.”
As each song progresses, instead of going into the generic verse, chorus breakdown that has defined hardcore, it goes into melodic parts and builds up into massive guitar leads and solos from Zak Drummond, who was finally set free to show off his talent. Ten songs round out the album, which is filled in with a 3 segues that tie everything together. I can’t wait to see them play these songs live, as they are the strongest the band has ever written. If you are a fan of hardcore, punk, metal, stoner rock, etc., you need to listen to this album. Verse is no longer limited to any one genre, yet they remain a hardcore band. Finally, someone did something new, and it couldn’t possibly come from a better band than Verse. When the final track “The End of All Life” ends, it leaves us wishing for more. The guitar melodies make for such a perfect conclusion to the album, and the sing-along at the end doesn’t come off as forced, but instead just flows. I can’t wait to hear what they do next because their progression as a band is quite amazing.
Verse didn’t get back together to make money. They didn’t do it to be the cool dudes headlining shows (they hate headlining shows). They didn’t do it to play the big clubs with bands like New Found Glory (they’d much rather play basements and garage shows). They didn’t do it to hit the road and tour (they’ve already done that). They definitely didn’t do it for the money. They got back together because they love playing music together. Isn’t that what this is all about? This is the best album of 2012, and it will be tough for anyone to come out with something that tops it. Get the vinyl, get the CD, download it on iTunes, or hell…steal it from a friend. Just make sure you give it a listen.
Both photos courtesy of www.legendsarising.com,“Legends Arising, an Aspiring Hardcore Community”
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